Mathematica Study Doesn't Add Up to Abstinence
Abstinence Education Programs Proven Effective
The Achilles' Heel of Condoms: Chastity and Fidelity Proving More Effective
Dealing Girls a Raw and Racy Deal: Interview With Director of Women's Forum
Harvard Abstinence Group Fights Back
HHS Director of Abstinence Education Programs Retires…
MATHEMATICA STUDY DOESN'T ADD UP. After years of fighting funding for abstinence education, liberal groups are heralding a new research study on several abstinence programs. The Department of Health and Human Services has released a report by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. on a handful of Title V, Section 510 programs.
Its findings, which have been radically exaggerated in the media, suggest that changes must be made to select abstinence programs to make them more effective. Tracking four elementary and middle school programs–less than one percent of the 700 abstinence programs that receive federal funding–Mathematica found little improvement in the percent of students who delayed sexual activity as a result of the curriculum.
While liberal leaders are salivating at the chance to replace abstinence funding with more dollars for Planned Parenthood's empire, the research has obvious limitations.
The four programs that Mathematica evaluated (beginning in 1999) have already been revised and improved, and they are by no means representative of abstinence education as a whole.
They also included no high school component–so one logical conclusion is that to achieve the greatest effectiveness, programs must be intensive and long-term, so that the knowledge, attitudes, and skills needed to reject sex before marriage are constantly reinforced–particularly in the pivotal high school years.
Abstinence programs have faced the challenge of improving the services they deliver, and fortunately most have done so. A recent HHS-sponsored conference in Baltimore unveiled evidence from more than two dozen other studies that abstinence programs are producing positive outcomes for youth.
For every study that disparages the abstinence approach, there are many others that point to its success and suggest that effective, long-term programs should be given more funding–not less. [16April07, Family Research Council]
Study: Abstinence programs no guarantee
Students who took part in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not, according to a study ordered by Congress. Also, those who attended one of the four abstinence classes that were reviewed reported having similar numbers of sexual partners as those who did not attend the classes. And they first had sex at about the same age as other students — 14.9 years, according to Mathematica Policy Research Inc. The federal government now spends about $176 million annually on abstinence-until-marriage education. Critics have repeatedly said they don't believe the programs are working, and the study will give them reinforcement. However, Bush administration officials cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from the study. They said the four programs reviewed — among several hundred across the nation — were some of the very first established after Congress overhauled the nation's welfare laws in 1996. Officials said one lesson they learned from the study is that the abstinence message should be reinforced in subsequent years to truly affect behavior. "This report confirms that these interventions are not like vaccines. You can't expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth's high school career," said Harry Wilson, the commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families. For its study, Mathematica looked at students in four abstinence programs around the country as well as students from the same communities who did not participate in the abstinence programs. The 2,057 youths came from big cities — Miami, Florida, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin — as well as rural communities — Powhatan, Virginia, and Clarksdale, Mississippi. The students who participated in abstinence education did so for one to three years. Their average age was 11 to 12 when they entered the programs back in 1999.
Mathematica then did a follow up survey in late 2005 and early 2006. By that time, the average age for participants was about 16.5. Mathematica found that about half of the abstinence students and about half from the control group reported that they remained abstinent. "I really do think it's a two-part story. First, there is no evidence that the programs increased the rate of sexual abstinence," said Chris Trenholm, a senior researcher at Mathematica who oversaw the study. "However, the second part of the story that I think is equally important is that we find no evidence that the programs increased the rate of unprotected sex." Trenholm said his second point of emphasis was important because some critics of abstinence programs have contended that they lead to less frequent use of condoms. Mathematica's study could have serious implications as Congress considers renewing this summer the block grant program for abstinence education known as Title V. The federal government has authorized up to $50 million annually for the program. Participating states then provide $3 for every $4 they get from the federal government. Eight states decline to take part in the grant program.
Some lawmakers and advocacy groups believe the federal government should use that money for comprehensive sex education, which would include abstinence as a piece of the curriculum. "Members of Congress need to listen to what the evidence tells us," said William Smith, vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States [SIECUS], which promotes comprehensive sex education. "This report should give a clear signal to members of Congress that the program should be changed to support programs that work, or it should end when it expires at the end of June," Smith said. Smith also said he didn't have trouble making broader generalizations about abstinence programs based on the four reviewed because "this was supposed to be their all-star lineup."
But a trade association for abstinence educators emphasized that the findings represent less than 1 percent of all Title V abstinence projects across the nation. "This study began when [the programs] were still in their infancy," said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. "The field of abstinence has significantly grown and evolved since that time, and the results demonstrated in the Mathematica study are not representative of the abstinence education community as a whole."
The four programs differed in many respects. One was voluntary and took place after school. Three had mandatory attendance and served youth during the school day. All offered more than 50 hours of classes. Two were particularly intensive. The young people met every day of the school year. Common topics included human anatomy and sexually transmitted diseases. Also, classes focused on helping students set personal goals and build self-esteem. The young people were taught to improve communication skills and manage peer pressure. [14April2007, AP] The Mathematica study involved 2,057 children, including 1,209 who participated in "Families United to Prevent Teen Pregnancy" in Milwaukee; "ReCapturing the Vision" in Miami; "Teens in Control" in Clarksdale, Miss.; and "My Choice, My Future" in Powhatan, Va. Students were typically 11 or 12 years old when they started the programs; follow-up surveys were conducted five years later. [http://www.washtimes.com/national/20070414-122734-5556r.htm]
ABSTINENCE EDUCATION PROGRAMS PROVEN EFFECTIVE. Recent media have reported that abstinence education is ineffective. While these reports cite one study, there are many more substantive reports that show otherwise.
In addition to studies proving the benefits of sexual abstinence for teenagers, there are multiple studies available on specific programs, which show that abstinence education positively affects student attitudes and behaviors.
Following is a non-exhaustive list of programs which, through formal study, have been shown effective in their purposes.
1.FRIENDS FIRST Quinceañera Program increased protective factors such as parent/child communication about sexuality and sexual boundaries during a key developmental stage.
2.Ohio’s Abstinence Education Program during 2005-2006 produced results that suggest students in grades six through eight improved attitudes and behavior regarding sex and other high-risk behaviors.
3.Family Accountability Communicating Teen Sexuality (FACTS) (English) and Datos y Razones (DATOS) (Spanish) received high ratings from students who specifically benefited in social skills such as handling problems and resisting peer pressure.
4.Too Young For Two (of Girls Incorporated of Rapid City, SD) has been shown to improve adolescent girls’ decisions about sexual activity and other risky behaviors.
5.B-Unique resulted in statistically significant improvements in pro-abstinence knowledge and refusal skills, attitudes toward abstinence and increased commitment to abstinence until graduation and marriage.
6.Pure & Simple Lifestyle (PSL) has shown immediate changes in attitudes toward abstinence in both urban and rural areas.
7.F.A.M.E. (Family Action Model for Empowerment) has proven effective in increasing attitudes and behaviors, among adolescents and families, associated with reduced incidence of high-risk sexual behaviors among teens.
8.Teens Taking Charge (TTC) has been shown to help participants internalize information and concepts regarding sexual activity and other high-risk behaviors, enabling them to make informed decisions.
9.Peers Educating and Encouraging Responsible Sexuality (PEERS) has produced results showing that youths were more likely to be committed to abstinence and have an abstinence rationale after participating in the program than were non-participants.
10.Project REACH has increased the likelihood of participants practicing abstinence.
A compendium of abstracts from each of these studies and many more is available at www.abstinence.net.
“Opponents of abstinence education have refused to recognize the abundance of both general research that supports abstinent behaviors and programmatic research, which demonstrate the effectiveness of abstinence education,” commented Leslee Unruh, president of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse. [13April07 Brittany Wilson 605.335.3643, D.C.]
THE ACHILLES' HEEL OF CONDOMS: CHASTITY AND FIDELITY PROVING MORE EFFECTIVE …Governments in many countries increasingly favor the wholesale distribution of condoms in an attempt to reduce teenage pregnancies and the spread of sexual diseases. Earlier this year in Scotland, condoms were being distributed to children as young as 13, Edinburgh's Evening News reported Jan. 16.
The newspaper reported that data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that in 2005 a total of 53,638 free condoms were issued to children 13-15 in Edinburgh and surrounding areas…Health authorities in Washington, D.C., also gave away 250,000 condoms in the weeks preceding Valentine's Day, the Washington Post reported Feb. 16…On March 2 the Washington Post published a lengthy article
examining the experience of Botswana in dealing with AIDS.
The newspaper noted that a number of studies single out the practice of having sex with multiple partners "as the most powerful force propelling a killer disease through a vulnerable continent."
The Washington Post cited a July report by southern African AIDS experts and officials that put "reducing multiple and concurrent partnerships" as their first priority for preventing the spread of HIV. The region accounts for 38% of total HIV infections in the world.
The article described how Botswana has followed for many years the policy recommended by international experts of promoting condoms and distributing antiretroviral drugs. All to no avail. The contagion rate for HIV in the country is the among the fastest growing in the world. Around 25% of the population is currently infected.
Fidelity campaigns were never seriously promoted in Botswana, the Washington Post observed, but condoms were. A $13.5 million campaign for condom promotion was launched in the country, thanks to the financial support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Merck pharmaceutical company. The amount spent on promoting condoms was 25 times more than what was spent on abstinence programs.
"Soaring rates of condom use have not brought down high HIV rates," the article concluded. "Instead, they rose together, until both were among the highest in Africa."
The importance of modifying the way people act, instead of programs based on condom distribution, is increasingly being recognized by medical experts.
On March 11, 2006, the British Medical Journal published an article entitled "Risk Compensation: The Achilles' Heel of Innovations in HIV Prevention?"
Authored by a team of writers headed by Michael Cassell, the article observed that while pharmaceuticals and other measures can help reduce the spread of HIV, they may also inhibit the change to safer behaviors by diminishing people's perceptions of risks.
Condom promotion campaigns, combined with a reduction in risk perception, "may have contributed to increases in inconsistent use, which has minimal protective effect, as well as to a possible neglect of the risks of having multiple sexual partners," the article commented.
The authors also noted that studies in a number of Western countries show that the promise of increased access to antiretroviral treatment "has been associated with significant increases in risky behavior."
Prior to this confirmation of the need to change sexual behavior, came from a study carried out in Zimbabwe's rural population between 1998 and 2003. An article entitled "Understanding HIV Epidemic Trends in Africa," published Feb. 3, 2006, in Science magazine, reported on the study's findings.
Authors Richard Hayes and Helen Weiss wrote that a reduction in HIV prevalence was achieved due to changes in sexual behavior. The changes involved delaying the onset of sexual activity by adolescents and a reduction in the number of casual sexual partners.
A related theme in the debate is the question of promoting abstinence. The negative consequences of initiating sexual relations at an early age was highlighted in an article published in the February issue of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
The article, "Adolescent Sexual Debut and Later Delinquency," by Stacy Armour and Dana Haynie, observed that the question of ill effects resulting from sex outside marriage is a controversial point in the debate over whether to promote abstinence. Up until now, however, there has been little research on the topic.
Armour and Haynie used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health to examine interconnections between the age of sexual debut and subsequent delinquency problems. The study covered some 12,000 students and the findings were controlled for variables such as age, race and family structure.
Among the conclusions from the study was the finding that premature initiation of sexual activity increases the risks of delinquency. Similarly, delaying sexual activity later than one's peers "offers a protective effect and reduces the risks of engaging in subsequent delinquency." The corresponding negative and positive effects go beyond adolescence and persist until early adulthood.
[18March07, http://www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=104734, ZE07031829]
DEALING GIRLS A RAW AND RACY DEAL: Interview With Director of Women's Forum. A recent report from the American Psychological Association on the harmful effects of the sexualization of girls shows that society needs a new strategy for young women, according to a leading women's advocate in Australia.
Melinda Tankard Reist, the founding director of Women's Forum Australia, commented on the report, noting that instead of turning girls into sexual objects, society should teach them to "be resilient and to defend their dignity and self-respect."
Tankard Reist is also the author of "Giving Sorrow Words: Women's Stories of Grief After Abortion," and "Defiant Birth: Women Who Resist Medical Eugenics."
Q: A recent report published by the American Psychological Association pointed out the damage caused by the sexualizing of preteen and adolescent girls. How serious is this problem today in your opinion?
Tankard Reist: The problem of the premature sexualizing of girls is one of the most serious issues confronting us as a society at the present time. Girls are being turned into sexual objects earlier and earlier.
The messages they receive through popular culture is that to be attractive, to be accepted, you have to dress and behave in a sexual manner. There are now lingerie clothing lines for preteen girls, and bras for girls under 10, T-shirts with sexual slogans, and even a pole dancing kit complete with a DVD that features "sexy dance tracks" for 6-year-olds.
Popular lines of dolls for girls feature sexy clothing and sexy personas. Gossip magazines aimed at a preteen readership also encourage girls to behave in a sexual manner, with pages devoted to grooming and relationships — even with older men.
In advertising catalogues, children are dressed up, made-up and posed in the same way that adults are. This suggests that children are interested in, and perhaps open to, approaches for sex.
Young girls are not emotionally equipped to process the sexual messages being targeted at them. It is difficult for them, when abandoned to their autonomy, to resist outside pressure. We are seeing the effects of this premature sexualizing on the bodies of our young women in self-destructive behaviors such as excessive dieting and eating disorders, drug taking and binge drinking, self harm, anxiety, depression, lower academic performance and ill health.
Prescriptions for drugs to treat depression in young girls increase every year. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia are at epidemic proportions — and manifesting in children as young as 8. I am pleased the APA has taken the issue seriously — though I hope it's not too late.
Q: Decades ago one of the aims of feminism was to end
the exploitation of women, yet contemporary culture has reduced women more than ever to her sex appeal. Has feminism failed women in this area?
Tankard Reist: I must admit I found it very hard to celebrate International Women's Day this year. I have three daughters and I see how vulnerable they are to messages about sexuality and body image and how hard it is for them to resist this. It is difficult to raise them in a culture so destructive of their self-esteem and which so abbreviates their childhood.
Many gains have been made by the women's movement, that needs to be acknowledged. But at some stage, efforts to end the exploitation of women were overtaken by the movement for sexual liberalism.
Suddenly, women's freedom was reduced to women's freedom to be sexual playthings for male arousal and pleasure. "Liberation" has come to mean a woman's ability to pole dance, expose herself, have multiple partners and avail herself of cosmetic surgery to enhance her "assets."
Sexual liberalism has not advanced women's freedom, but eroded and undermined it. We are living in a sexually brutalized culture. We are seeing more harassment, stalking and rape, more alcohol-fueled sexual abuse and use of date rape drugs. In general, more predatory behaviour.
While radical feminism has questioned the rhetoric of "choice" and exposed the costs to women of the so-called sexual revolution, liberal mainstream "choice" feminism needs to take some responsibility for a confused and destructive notion of freedom that underlines much of the assaults we see today on women's genuine dignity.
Ariel Levy's book "Female Chauvinist Pigs" describes how a culture of sexual display and raunchy behaviors — i.e. strippers, porn stars, pole dancers, etc. — is actually a monoculture which does nothing to empower women. It becomes clear that it is not freedom of expression, but a strong cultural expectation for women to appear and behave a particular way.
Q: The unhindered portrayal of sexual images and messages in the media is often defended in the name of freedom of speech. It is also argued that a lack of sexual restraint is "liberating" for women. What is your opinion on these points?
Tankard Reist: The barrage of sexual images in popular culture cannot be justified on "free speech" grounds when it is causing so much damage to vulnerable children who need protection.
Online networks of pedophiles also use "free speech" arguments when trading in images of children being raped. In Australia, a prominent social researcher, Hugh Mackay, said recently that there was too much censorship and that no one was harmed by the mere downloading of child porn.
He completely ignored the fact that every download fuels a demand for more images — and often more degrading images. This attitude also ignores the harm done to the child whose image is used again and again for sexual gratification around the world.
The APA study and other research, for example by the Australia Institute and by my organization, Women's Forum Australia, provides solid evidence for the harm being caused by plastering society's wallpaper with sexual images.
What we are witnessing is not liberation but oppression. It is not liberating for young women to be told everyday that their only power is in their sexual currency. It is not liberating to convey to women that their freedom lies in participating in their own exploitation. To portray the sexual as the only value of a woman is not liberation, but rather oppression.
Q: What are some of the effects have you seen on adolescents and women regarding the consequences of a culture that increasingly puts no limits on sexual expression and behavior?
Tankard Reist: Young women are facing huge pressure to conform to a sexualized norm.
The "norm" is that young women have an insatiable appetite for sex. This is a cultural assumption that women should be having sex — at least daily — and something is wrong if they're not. There is profound pressure from the media for young women to be sexually attractive and active. Without this they are thought of as abnormal and unfulfilled.
Young women are compromised by a sexual free-for-all in which they come to expect only cold soulless encounters — where they are always expected to give out sexual favors with little in return.
The newly released "Sex lives of Australian Teenagers" demonstrates this. It makes bleak reading, revealing how little real love there is in the sexual — I was going to say "intimate," but there's little real intimacy either — exchanges between young people.
Q: What can be done to promote a healthier view of women in the sense of a greater respect for their dignity and their role in society?
Tankard Reist: We need a new strategy for women and girl advocacy.
We need to empower young women especially to be resilient and to defend their dignity and self-respect.
The decision not to submit to hypersexualized messages and to live above the dictates of the culture, needs to be seen for what it is — a radical and defiant alternative lifestyle.
Young women deserve better than to be treated as merely the sum of their sexual parts. They need to be given encouragement to develop their minds, their intellects, their deeper inner lives, rather than wasting hours in trying to get their bodies to conform to an idealized oversexualized type.
We need more social protection of girls, and even more so because of the excesses of popular culture and the sexual danger this puts them in. As Joan Jacobs Brumberg, author of "The Body Project," points out: "Although girls now mature sexually earlier than ever before, contemporary . society provides fewer social protections for them, a situation that leaves them unsupported in their development and extremely vulnerable to the excesses of popular culture and to pressure from peer groups."
We also need to be investing a lot more in raising decent men. There are many men who share the concerns I have raised here. But there are other men — and it is primarily men — who create the demand for the sort of material that strips women of dignity and respect. It is mostly men who commit sexual crimes, who traffic millions of women and girls a year into the twin industries of pornography and prostitution. It is mostly men who buy pornography and prostituted women.
I don't have any easy answers here — but I'd like to know why we aren't doing more to bring out the best — not the worst — in boys and young men? Boys are also demeaned and brutalized by a culture that conditions them to this type of behaviour.
In a Melbourne suburb, a group of 12 boys sexually humiliated an intellectually disabled girl then sold the DVD of the abuse to students at high schools in the area for 5 Australian dollars each. The DVD was also shown online for some time before it was removed. But many people defended their behavior, saying it was just a bunch of boys "having a bit of fun." As long as this attitude prevails, then there is little hope for our girls.
We need a new global movement prepared to stand up against corporations, advertisers, the sex industry, the makers of violent video games and demeaning music clip and Internet sites. We need the same momentum as we've seen drive recent movements against global warming and world poverty propel a new movement for fighting our toxic cultural environment. [PERTH, Australia, 21March 2007 Zenit.org, Z
HARVARD ABSTINENCE GROUP FIGHTS BACK. Harvard University seniors Justin Murray and Sarah Kinsella founded the student group True Love Revolution to promote abstinence on campus. Sometime between the founding of a student-run porn magazine and the day the campus health center advertised "Free Lube," Harvard University seniors Sarah Kinsella and Justin Murray decided to fight back against what they see as too much mindless sex at the Ivy League school.
The group, created earlier this school year, has more than 90 members on its Facebook.com page. Harvard treats sex – or "hooking up" – so casually that "sometimes I wonder if sex is even a remotely serious thing," said Kinsella, who is dating Murray. Other schools around the country have small groups devoted to abstinence. On most campuses, they are religious organizations. Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have Anscombe Societies, secular organizations named after an English philosopher and Roman Catholic.
True Love Revolution is secular as well.
"On campus there is such a strong attitude of pluralism and acceptance, but then, it doesn't extend to this," Kinsella said. In the student paper, The Harvard Crimson, columnist Jessica C. Coggins praised the group's low-key approach and scolded Harvard students for their "laughter at the virgin." She said students on the campus, which has 6,700 undergraduates, should "find a different confidence booster than making fun of celibate peers."
True Love Revolution members say the problem starts with the university. They say Harvard has implicitly led students to believe that having sex at college is a foregone conclusion by requiring incoming freshman to attend a seminar on date-rape that does not mention abstinence, by placing condoms in freshmen dorms, and by hosting racy lecturers. (Harvard students have also launched H-Bomb, a magazine featuring racy photos of undergraduates.) "Sometimes that voice on campus is so overwhelming that students committed to abstinence almost feel compelled to abandon their convictions," Murray said. He acknowledged he "slipped up" and had sex earlier in college but said he has returned to abstinence with Kinsella. Dr. David Rosenthal, director of Harvard health services, disputed the notion that the university promotes sex. He said students mistakenly think everyone on campus is having sex.
The National College Health Assessment Survey, which included Harvard and hundreds of other campuses, found that about 29 percent of students reported not having sex in the past school year. For the 71 percent who are having sex, it is crucial to promote safety, Rosenthal said. "Some students may have a feeling that acknowledgment is condoning," he said, "and it's not." [22March07, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17740428/, Steven Senne /AP]
HHS DIRECTOR OF ABSTINENCE EDUCATION PROGRAMS RETIRES. Dr. Wade Horn, the director of the Bush administration's abstinence education programs at the Department of Health and Human Services, has announced his departure. Horn, who was unanimously confirmed for the position by the U.S. Senate in 2001, left his post on Monday.
Horn leaves his spot as the Assistant Secretary of the Administration for Children and Families to work as a consultant for Deloitte & Touche, an accounting firm.
"It's been a privilege. How often do you have the opportunity to get up each morning and affect the lives of million of children and families in positive ways," Horn said about his tenure.
He oversaw a strong increase in federal funding of abstinence education under the Bush administration which now exceeds $200 million a year.
His work earned him the praise of Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council.
"We commend him for his unwavering commitment to the intact family and abstinence," Perkins said. "Under his watch, ACF has promoted positive, life-changing programs for adolescents, parents, and married couples."
"His principled leadership will be sorely missed," Perkins added in comments LifeNews.com received.
However, NOW president Kim Gandy, the head of the pro-abortion women's group, won't shed any tears at Horn's departure.
In a press release LifeNews.com obtained, she complained that, under Horn's guidance, "HHS is actively ensuring that women's access to contraception, abortion, and other reproductive healthcare is being stripped to nothing."
That's okay with Perkins and he hopes President Bush will consider someone like Horn when he chooses a new leader for the agency.
"As the administration considers a replacement to fill the big shoes that Wade is leaving behind, we urge the White House to select a person who shares his commitment for putting the family first," Perkins said.
Dr. Horn, of Administration for Children and Families, to Step Down. In a letter sent on Monday, April 2, 2007, Wade Horn, Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, announced his resignation. Horn’s position allowed him to serve children, youth and families in a wide variety of programs.
Under his leadership and guidance, abstinence education programs gained trust in age-appropriate evaluation design, and grew as professional organizations teaching science-based lessons. During Horn’s tenure, the concurrent administration raised federal funding of abstinence education programs to more than $200 million annually.
“We would like to offer our heartfelt thanks to Dr. Horn,” said Leslee Unruh, Founder of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse. “He has spent his time proving himself a true friend of abstinence education, and has shown a real understanding of the importance of marriage and responsible fatherhood in particular.”
Horn’s resignation will be effective on Sunday, April 8, 2007. He will then enter a position in the private sector as a consultant. [April 3, 2007, Abstinence Clearinghouse Email Updates; 4April2007, LifeNews.com]